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Keep calm and carry on

Keeping kids entertained and home schooling, work deadlines, money concerns and maintaining a work-life balance has never been more difficult with current restrictions to movement due to COVID-19. Read on for how to cope with anxiety and stress in the modern age

Stress and mild anxiety can be very common complaints from customers coming into the shop,” says Sian Eustace of health store Healing Harvest in Kinvara, Co Galway. “This can result from a huge range of conditions – for example, stress at work, lack of sleep, having a young family, and worries about finances. Social media and 24/7 news reports seem to be feeding anxiety and stress for many people too. It is important to listen carefully and to be ready to help someone find the appropriate resources should their symptoms require more support than we can provide in the shop setting.”

“The exam period [which as yet is still unclear] can be an incredibly stressful time for teenagers,” says Alice Bradshaw, head of nutrition and education at TerraNova. “Good nutrition, stress management, good sleep habits and nutritional and botanical supplements can play a role in helping teens to cope.”

“Anxiety and depression are becoming more and more common in today’s society,” says Lucy Kerr at health store The Good Earth in Kilkenny. “Thankfully there are many things that can help relieve symptoms.”

Anxiety and your body

“Anxiety-related health disorders can affect a person’s general sense of wellbeing, impacting on relationships, family life and studies,” says Alice Bradshaw. “Ultimately, even physical health can be affected, manifesting in symptoms such as digestive dysfunction, sleeplessness, heart palpitations, adrenal fatigue and cognitive issues such as brain fog or a lack of concentration.”

“Stress and anxiety, particularly in the longer term, can have a large impact on the human body,” agrees Sian Eustace. “If the adrenal gland is constantly firing, it can create adrenal fatigue where it no longer functions as it should. This can lead to exhaustion, reliance on stimulants (which only exacerbates the issue), weight loss and cravings for sweet and salty foods. Constant stress and anxiety also have a strongly negative impact on the digestive and immune systems.”

Natural help for stress

“B vitamins and foods naturally high in B vitamins, such as oats, can be very important for supporting the nervous system,” says Sian Eustace. “Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, is particularly important for adrenal support, but it is generally good to take B vitamins as part of a B complex supplement as they work best as a group. There are a number of herbs which can help to support the nervous system - passiflora, oatstraw, rhodiola and hops to name a few.”

“Anxiety is a multidimensional condition and clinical studies indicate that using a combination of nutritional intervention, adaptogenic herbs and stress management techniques can be an effective treatment strategy,” says Alice Bradshaw. “The B vitamins, magnesium and vitamin C are the key nutrients that are required for the manufacturing of adrenal hormones and are depleted when the body is under stress. A lack of pantothenic acid (B5) compromises adrenal function and may contribute to fatigue, poor sleep and anxiety. The herb rhodiola rosea, as well as Chinese and Siberian ginseng, are known as ‘adaptogens’ and all support adrenal function and enhance resistance to stress. Magnesium is one of the most important nutrients that the body needs but cannot make. Known as the ‘anti-stress’ mineral, it exerts a calming effect on the whole body. Studies show that magnesium is excreted from the body at an increased rate under stressful conditions.”

“Omega-3s are vital for the brain and nervous system and are shown to improve signs of depression,” says Lucy Kerr. “L theanine is a natural amino acid found in high quantities in green tea and is shown to reduce anxiety and stress. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to anxiety, depression and seasonal affective disorder, so it’s important to supplement. Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb which has been used to relieve stress and anxiety and also help with sleep. Rhodiola helps reduce the body’s cortisol levels and promotes physical and mental energy.”

Lifestyle advice

“Lifestyle changes are one of the most important things anxiety sufferers can do,” says Sian Eustace. “Important things to consider are reducing caffeine and alcohol intake; taking up a pasttime which is relaxing and diverting such as yoga, t'ai chi, mindfulness practice or knitting, sewing or gardening; taking time to prepare nourishing meals and to eat them mindfully and reducing consumption of social media. Also look at sleep hygiene, as getting a good night's sleep will make a huge difference to stress and anxiety. Some pointers for this are reducing the use of screens before bed (phone/computer/tablet/television), making sure your room is completely dark and finding a wind-down technique such as breathing exercises or guided meditation.”

“Try to get out for some fresh air every day, even just a ten minute walk can make a huge difference,” says Lucy Kerr.

“Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing or visualisation are practices that many find useful to relieve stress,” says Alice Bradshaw. “Taking regular, gentle exercise can also be tremendously helpful. Learning to organise your day and manage time can also be effective in reducing stress. Our diet can have a huge impact on how our bodies respond to stress. Caffeine, found in tea, coffee, chocolate and some carbonated drinks can trigger symptoms such as palpitations, nervousness, irritability and anxiety. High glycaemic, refined foods cause blood sugar swings and increase levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. The mineral potassium plays a key role in adrenal support, so increase fruit and vegetables and reduce salty, processed foods. Eating on a regular schedule in a calm, relaxed manner, rather than grabbing random meals, will encourage good digestion and help to manage stress.”

6 of the best foods for combatting stress

  • Berries – packed with antioxidants which combat damaging free-radicals released by stress in the body.
  • Cashew nuts – a great source of zinc which can help reduce anxiety. Other good sources of zinc are chicken and beef.
  • Green leafy vegetables – contain folate, which produces dopamine, a chemical that helps you to keep calm. Try eating more spinach, cabbage and broccoli.
  • Salmon – packed with omega-3 fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory properties, which in turn can help your body cope with stress hormones. Seeds such as flax, pumpkin and sunflower all contain magnesium, the stress fighting mineral.
  • Turkey – contains the amino acid tryptophan that makes you sleepy on Christmas Day and helps produce the feelgood hormone serotonin. Other good sources are nuts, seeds, tofu, fish, oats, lentils, eggs and beans.
  • Yogurt – a good probiotic yogurt gives you the benefit of live native bacteria to settle your digestive system as well as calcium and protein.

Discuss your decision with a healthcare practitioner before beginning or stopping any medical or herbal treatment.

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